I gave a lecture to a group of MA students at Manchester Metropolitan University recently about life as a freelance journalist.
They were absolutely lovely and it’s fantastic to see young people aspiring to work in newspapers and magazines.
During the talk, we touched on some of the assumptions people have about the profession.
As someone who works a lot for tabloids, I’ve noticed the reaction I’ve had from people when I tell them about my job has changed a LOT over the past few years.
Before, it was usually, ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’ or ‘Oh.’
Now it’s either the former or ‘Ugh, do you hack phones/rifle through bins/sell your own granny for a headline/make it up/struggle to look in the mirror’ and so on.
But I still feel very lucky to do the job I do.
Thanks to the rise of digital and news moving so quickly now, the media landscape has changed.
I find myself not just doing journalism work, but copywriting, content marketing, PR and social media but it’s being a journalist that gave me the skills at the outset.
So I thought I’d share this list of the ten silliest things people think about freelance journalists and what we really want you to know…
‘Exposure’ is something our profession hears a lot. But this doesn’t pay the mortgage and and self respecting journalist can’t and won’t work for free.
I know lots of journalists do, but after 20 years in the business I can afford to say no to unpaid work or very lowly paid work (£6 for 1,000 words was one offer!)
Just as you wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your loo in return for you telling people how wonderful a job they did, don’t expect a decent freelance journalist to work for free.
There are exceptions. I’ve promoted a charity calendar for a friend and done lots of stories on a local level to raise awareness of key issues.
But generally, if you run a business and pay yourself, then you should pay the people who work for you too.
Many of my friends are very liberal but write for the right wing press. They’re not fascists.
They just have a job to do and go out and write and report on whatever their editor wants at any given time.
Journalists write for the market they are working for.
Yes, you can be principled and only work for outlets that are in line with your beliefs, but you may struggle to make much money.
Yes, anyone can publish anything. There’s millions of bloggers and vloggers out there and many of them are absolutely smashing it, earning wages that we freelancers could only dream of, like Zoella and the brilliant Body Coach Joe Wicks.
But being a freelance journalist is different. You don’t get paid for just writing what you want and publishing it. It needs to be an idea that you can convince an editor that people want to read.
We have to sell our stories in. And just to simply do the job and win commissions we have to be trained in law, local and central Government and do 100wpm shorthand.
That said, I’m no Pulitzer Prize winner, I write mainly about dogs and light hearted fluff as you’ll see here on my website!
Fair enough, lots are. Just like Polly, the journalist on EastEnders who was like a dog with a bone.
But generally, most of the journalists I’ve met over the years have been nice enough folk. Not like the caricatures you see on the telly.
Some of them I’d even go as far as saying can be quite soft! I’d say my favourite portrayal of journos on the telly was in Paul Abbott’s fantastic BBC series State Of Play in 2003 – it’s well worth a watch.
The rate of pay for a national newspaper shift hasn’t increased very much since the 1990s.
The median salary for a journalist in the UK is just under £32,000 according to a report in 2015 by the Office of National Statistics.
Most shift rates have changed very little since the 1990s, but finding great stories to sell to national newspapers, magazines and websites can be lucrative.
If I had a quid for every time I heard someone say, ‘Don’t tell her that, she’ll have it in the paper,’ well, it would probably be the same as my average monthly salary.
Unless you have done something very bad, the likelihood of meeting a journalist who puts you in the paper is very low.
But if you do have an interesting story, and you want to share it, then a freelance journalist is the best person to chat to!
They will be able to pitch the right angle, rather than send a bland press release that goes straight in the bin.
A few years back I was approached by the McIntyre family who created the Plyt board game who had spent over £10,000 on PR for a few pieces in the local paper. I was able to place their story in the Telegraph.
Recently I’ve written about pet health after going on a first aid course at my dog’s daycare centre, and I’m currently having Cryotherapy for a first person feature too.
Ever seen a line up of people talking about something utterly outrageous and thought, ‘I can’t believe it?’
An editor will have come up with the request to, say, get a family to dress up as the Trumps – yes, I recently did this.
And the journalist with their name on the story will have had to find them.
That’s a skill in itself, having the contacts to find that elusive case study and make a story work.
It’s not fine to steal our work. Again, because of online, our stories get ripped off all the time.
Quite often, sharing a story is a difficult experience. It may have taken weeks, months or even years for the case study to feel ready to talk.
So the mother of a murdered child may be happy for their story to appear in one publication but once a story is ‘out there’ the world and his wife can copy it.
This is appalling and a gripe with many writers. Photographers have more control over copyright as only they may have that particular photo.
With words, new ‘Fair Use’ rules mean that huge chunks of our stories can be copied without redress. If you want to use our work, most journalists are easy to reach online. At least have the decency to contact us and ask if it’s ok.
Well… this is a little bit true. Maybe not in a whisky for breakfast sense, and nowhere near as much as in the old days thanks to mobile phones meaning the boss can call at any time.
But most journos like a tipple and a lot of stories are swapped over a glass of wine.
For the showbiz reporters who have to hang out in nightclubs until the small hours, having a drink is the only thing to get through it. For a real insight, have a read of former 3am girl Jessica Callan’s book Wicked Whispers.
If we’re not being accused of sifting through rubbish, or writing a load of it, quite often we’re being told what we do is crap.
But is it really that bad? Over the years I’ve flown First Class with Richard Branson, met Hollywood stars and sporting legends, stayed in six star resorts and been paid to sunbathe and learn to ski.
Being a freelance journalist has many highs and lows but it’s the best job in the world!
If you’d like to talk about sharing your story, or you’d like to know more about creating content or social media for your business, call 07900082326 or e mail me, [email protected]